children

Overcrowding has some kids sleeping on DCS office couches

Some kids in state custody are sleeping on couches in Department of Children’s Services offices or in a Nashville church because state officials cannot find a better place for them to stay, reports The Tennessean.

Davidson County Regional Administrator Tiwanna Woods said no more than 19 teenagers have slept in state offices or the church since the beginning of March — and no more than three teens on a single night. However, sources who work closely with DCS put the number of children higher – as many as 15 teenagers spending the night in offices or the church in just the past week, and as many as seven on a single night.

The reports come just as DCS nears the end of a 14-year federal lawsuit originally brought by children’s rights advocates over kids being place in emergency shelters or other inappropriate settings instead of foster care, group homes or residential treatment centers.

DCS Commissioner Bonnie Hommrich acknowledged the agency is facing challenges placing some of the teenagers coming into custody in appropriate residences. She said that most of the difficult-to-place cases involve delinquent teenagers and foster kids with behavioral or psychiatric problems. While there aren’t always enough spaces for them now, Hommrich said DCS is working to open 60 beds for therapeutic care in July at Mountain View Youth Development Center in Dandridge, a facility for teenage boys who have committed multiple felonies. The new spots will be in a separate section of that facility.

“I think it breaks all of our hearts to see these kids and not be able to place them just like that,” Hommrich said. “It makes us determined for this (situation) to not drag on.”

Haslam on school bus seat belts: I’m not for the bill, but would sign it

Gov. Bill Haslam’s bill responding to a fatal school bus wreck in Chattanooga last year has been moved ahead without opposition but he’s staying out of a more controversial debate over whether the vehicles should be required to have seat belts, reports the Times-Free Press.

The governor told reporters that his administration is “technical deferred” on HB395 by Rep. JoAnn Favors, D-Chattanooga. His bill (HB322) won unanimous House approval Monday. Favors’ bill has cleared a couple of key committees on close votes, but still has a long way to go.

“I think there’s a big discussion back and forth in the Legislature,” Haslam said. “Deferred means if they pass it, we’ll sign it and figure out a way to fund it. But we’re not actively engaged in that one. The proposal we made was the proposal that we obviously wanted to make certain would happen.”

Continue reading

Bill on school bus seat belts clears House panel 9-7

A bill requiring Tennessee school buses to be equipped with seat belts cleared the House Transportation Committee with a 9-7 vote Tuesday amid concerns over costs and other factors. The bill by Rep. JoAnn Favors, D-Chattanooga, (HB395) was prompted by a Nov. 21, 2016, school bus crash that killed six Chattanooga children.

Continue reading

ACLU wins first round in TN juvenile jailing lawsuit

News release from American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A federal judge today granted a preliminary injunction in an American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee lawsuit challenging the use of solitary confinement for juveniles. The injunction prohibits the county from subjecting children in its detention facility to solitary confinement as punishment while the case proceeds.

The lawsuit was originally filed on behalf of a 15-year-old pretrial detainee who was held in solitary confinement for five days at the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Facility. It is now a class action seeking to end the practice of solitary confinement for all juveniles in the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Facility.

“Being locked in a concrete cell alone for 23 hours a day with nothing but a mattress and a toilet can create lasting damage for a young person’s psychological, social and physical development,” said ACLU-TN cooperating attorney Mark J. Downton of Downton Clark, PLLC. “We are pleased that the court has recognized that subjecting young people to solitary confinement for disciplinary purposes is inhumane.”

Continue reading

Bill mandating school bus seat belts clears first vote

A bill requiring all Tennessee school buses be equipped with safety restraint systems by mid-2023 cleared its first House hurdle Wednesday, report the Times-Free Press. The voice vote came after two Chattanooga physicians gave dramatic testimony about the “terrible night” in November when a Hamilton County school bus crashed, killing six children and injuring others.

“I truly believe that the pain of those families and suffering of their children could have been prevented or lessened,” Dr. Alan Kohrt, a pediatrician and chief medical officer at Children’s Hospital at Erlanger, told Transportation Subcommittee members.

He said that included not just the seat belt bill (HB395) sponsored by Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, but another Favors bil (HB127)l. It requires school bus drivers be at least 25 years old and have had a five-year clean driving history before getting licensed by the state to transport students.

Continue reading

Comptroller finds more missing money in DHS nutrition programs

News release from state comptroller’s office

Comptroller Justin P. Wilson has released investigations detailing serious issues within two organizations working under the Tennessee Department of Human Services’ Child and Adult Care Food Program and Summer Food Service Program respectively.

The Comptroller’s Office worked in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General in its investigation of All About Giving, Inc. All About Giving, a nonprofit organization formerly located in Nashville and Knoxville, assisted daycare homes by submitting meal reimbursement requests to DHS for meals provided to children.

Investigators questioned several large cash withdrawals and expenditures made by All About Giving. Questionable expenditures included money spent on Xbox, Google Live, Big Fish Games, Shoe Carnival, Perfume Paradise, and in-state and out-of-state hotel charges. Investigators analyzed $230,569.33 of expenditures and found documentation to support only $19.60 for postage stamp purchases.

Continue reading

Bill repeals TN law saying artifcial insemination babies are legitimate

Two Tennessee lawmakers want to do away with a 40-year-old state law granting legitimacy to children conceived through artificial insemination and critics say the bill is aimed at gay couples and their children, reports the Associated Press. A sponsor says that’s not the case.

The bill (HB1406, sponsored by Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, and Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald) would remove a single sentence applying to child custody when artificial insemination is involved, one that’s been interpreted to make no distinction between same-sex and heterosexual couples.

But opponents warn that changing the law could prevent both same-sex parents from appearing on the children’s birth certificates, affecting their ability to make parenting decisions ranging from medical care to education.

Continue reading

DCS turning over Mountain View juvenile penal center to private operator

The state Department of Children’s Services is moving to convert part of the Mountain View Youth penal center into a privately run treatment center, reports WBIR-TV.

Rob Johnson, DCS spokesman, stressed Thursday the Dandridge center itself will remain open. But the state argues that in its traditional role as a “secure” center for hardened juvenile offenders Mountain View is now underused. DCS announced the development Thursday afternoon.

The idea is to install a 60-bed “Level Three” center that would offer youth in custody more chances to learn job skills and get treatment. It would be “staff secure,” but would allow juveniles in custody more freedom to move around – without the perimeter razor wire that’s now in place.

Mountain View can accommodate 144 people; there are 39 there now, according to DCS.

“We have a really big need for these Level 3 beds,” Johnson said.

Mountain View is one of three such centers in Tennessee with elevated security designed to house serious offenders. In recent years, it’s been the site of escape attempts and assaults on staff members.

The trend is to de-emphasize the traditional state correction center and emphasize , when possible, more treatment-based options for juvenile offenders, according to Johnson.

Mountain View would keep a “hardware secure” area with up to 24 beds, the razor wire fence and steel doors. It would also be run by the private operator, which would lease Mountain View from the state.

…Johnson said DCS already contracts with almost 30 firms that provide services so it wouldn’t necessarily have to seek formal proposals in a bidding system for Mountain View.

Making the change, according to DCS, would free up $3 million for “prevention services” that would go to help reach young people to ensure they don’t end up in the juvenile justice system.

Note: The DCS press release is below.

Continue reading

Emma and William top TN baby names in 2016

News release from state Department of Health

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Emma and William are the most popular names chosen by new Tennessee parents for their babies born in 2016. Names chosen for babies are recorded and tallied by the dedicated team in the Tennessee Department of Health’s Office of Vital Records, which registers some 240,000 new records of births, deaths, marriages and divorces every year.

William has remained the top name chosen for baby boys born in Tennessee for a decade, coming in as the most popular choice for ten straight years. Emma has been the most popular name for Tennessee baby girls since 2011. There are ties for the top choices in three slots on the list of boys’ names this year.

The top 10 names Tennessee parents chose for their new babies born in 2016* are as follows:

Continue reading

Supremes OK forms to simplify uncontested divorces for couples with children

News release from Administrative Office of the Courts

Nashville, Tenn. – The Tennessee Supreme Court has adopted a set of plain-language forms and instructions for use in uncontested divorces between parties with minor children in an effort to simplify divorce proceedings for parties that fall into that category.  The forms will become effective January 1, 2017.

The forms are approved by the Court as universally acceptable and legally sufficient for use in all Tennessee courts pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 52. The forms and instructions were submitted to the Court by the Access to Justice Commission.

The forms arose from the Commission’s responsibility under Supreme Court Rule 50 to develop initiatives and systemic changes to reduce barriers to access to justice and to meet the legal needs of persons whose legal needs may not be met by legal aid programs. Currently there are restrictions on the types of family law cases which may be handled by federally funded legal aid providers.

Continue reading